Getting the gap year I didn’t want

I can’t believe its been 6 months here in Ecuador. I’ve struggled to write blogs because I feel as though I can barely capture all that has happened through me just in words. But here I am trying to perhaps write somewhat of an update, and I am so grateful for the journey I have taken so far.

It all began in October. One long, slow and dragging month of my first few weeks had finally passed. I had gotten settled into my Ecuadorian family. Most of my time I had spent in my room, writing, learning the ukulele, or trying to find things to watch on Netflix. “Well this is pretty anticlimactic” I thought, as I had expected myself 2 months prior to be learning much more spanish, spending time with new people in my community, and getting to know my host family. The town of Tarqui that I was living in was very slow moving, yet I didn’t know how I was even supposed to navigate it. Many questions about how I could carry about my normal habits while in a totally different place, yanked at my thoughts. Can I go running in this town..or perhaps find a local market to check out, or maybe try and find a community club? Although I had my internship at a local animal refuge, I didn’t feel much purpose there either. The highlight of my day was always taking the 40 minute bus ride to and from my town to Cuenca to workout. Sometimes I dreaded going home in fear that I would yet again feel the feeling of emptiness, and uselessness. This is not what deferred college to do.

In November I reached a point where I felt I would do better in a more social setting than a zoo. The zoo was a wonderful organization, but I after many hours in a shed preparing the animals food, I knew I couldn’t stay there for 6 more months. I specifically remember meeting with my team leader Debbie and crying in the middle of the park about how much I couldn’t go back the next day.

When I switched to teaching english at my local school, I was relieved. I loved the kids and believed that this would finally be a turning point and the reason I had taken a gap year. The first week, I had already felt like my spanish had improved, and that I could make the english lessons more meaningful for the students. I went over sentence structures, and taught them new words. I returned the following week with many ideas on how I could work along with the teacher, but instead I sat at the back of the class while the teacher copied the vowels on the board. The following 3 weeks I did the same thing. I continuously asked the teacher if there was anything I could do to help, and that I was there to help her with her job, not make it harder. She replied, telling me that they weren’t doing too much that day, and perhaps I could help the students with pasting their newspaper onto the construction paper.

Still, I never knew what I could do to show that I simply wanted to help. I went up to the teacher one day and said “I really don’t have to be here if you don’t need me, I can just go home”. I wasn’t being paid for any of my work ,and I felt obligated by the program to stick it out.

“How stupid of me to take a whole year off to just do what other people want me to do” I thought.

I felt so stuck. I wasn’t interacting much with my family. I felt so isolated, I missed my friends and family. I felt no sense of accomplishment and began to feel that the only way out was to drop out of the program and travel on my own. I began to look at options, dates and jobs that I could do to possibly make my gap year worth it finally. I was on the edge. I didn’t want to consider other options, I didn’t want to move into another family, and I certainly did not want to spend 4 more months feeling like this.

I had notified my dad of how unhappy I was, and that I needed to drop out of the program as soon as possible. Of course he hit me with many questions that I didn’t want to answer, and encouraged me to just try the other options the program could provide me with. Finally I was tied with the conclusion that I would regret if I didn’t try to at least exhaust all my options. I had spent the past 3 months basically keeping all my feelings to myself, and honestly hated communicating my problems to my team leaders, who I thought wouldn’t be able to help much.

I wrote on a blank piece of paper one afternoon my goals, what I wanted from my gap year and what I had came here for. Two days later I sat before my team leaders reading these out, their faces somewhat shocked that I had been feeling the way I had. However, their honest answers and willingness to help, gave me more answers on why I should stay. I finally decided that I needed to try and move to a new town, with a new family, and a new internship at my local government building. Basically everything I had never wanted to try a week before.

I had little hope. But the fact that things were actually going to change did push me forward. Four days before Christmas I moved into my new family, and was surprised at how comfortable it felt. I felt like I was supposed to be there, and still was able to carry out the things I wanted to do, and more. I was also able to make my internship more of my own, and I started opening up more to the people in the program. Everyone was very supportive, and always asked how I was doing. I knew that if I dropped out now, I would be leaving behind the many amazing friends I had made.

January was the first month to completely fly by. I never thought that going home would be something that felt like it was getting closer. I was so accustomed to my life here in Ecuador now, and I felt so much more connection to my host family. I felt like I was able to offer more of my leadership, and be much more honest about my experience with everybody. This type of confidence I had grown in the past months was something I had never had before. I am able to express myself much more, and appreciate the little things that I had had so much conflict with before. I also learned an important lesson to always fight for what I wanted, and to never close out the people that are there to help you.

Here I am at the end of February and I can already feel the nostalgia setting in as I get ready for the last month of my gap year.

Thank you to my team leaders and director for always listening and working with me even if I didn’t open up so fast at first. You guys make the program what it is.
Thank you to my dad for always supporting me even if that means that I didn’t want to go to college at first and cost more than any of your children.

Thank you to my fellow gap year buddies for showing me that I am not alone, and always cheering me up, and supporting me.

And thank you to past self for deciding to defer school to pursue my learning outside the classroom. Perhaps nothing is what you expected, but you got the gap year you needed, not the one you wanted.

I can’t wait to savor the last few weeks of Ecuador and reflect on how far i’ve come. I know I still have a ways to go, but this journey has been worth the many challenges. To many more adventures ahead.